The making of a painting relies on inspiration, craft, practice, and vision. But, observes the noted science writer Philip Ball, it also hinges on science: "For as long as painters have fashioned their visions and dreams into images, they have relied on technical knowledge and skill to supply their materials."
In this lively study, Ball examines some of the tools and materials that chemists have added to the palette over the centuries. He also takes his readers on a learned tour of what science has taught us about vision, the nature of light, and the physical and cultural factors that condition our perceptions of color (the ancient Romans, he notes, had no term for brown or gray, but that does not mean they didn't use earth pigments in their work). Whether writing of matters scientific or artistic, Ball is a technologist but not a determinist. In the end, he writes, art depends not on science but on artists, and "each artist makes his or her own contract with the colors of the time."
Readers with an interest in science, art, and the crossroads where they meet will relish Ball's erudite travels across the spectrum of light. --Gregory McNamee [via]